by Lisa Haver
At the end of the sixth and final community meeting at Harrington, this piece of information was uncovered: even if the decision is made to go with the school-based Academic Improvement Plan, teachers may have to reapply for their positions at SGS schools. Even though questions about this were asked at all five of the previous meetings, no one from the District had included this crucial fact.
Present at this 5 PM meeting: Chief of Schools Shawn Bird, SGS Director Chris Davies, Temple professor Will Jordan, FACE representatives, other District staff, and Board of Education member Mallory Fix-Lopez. (Network 2 Superintendent Rahshene Davis-Bowie was not present.) Introductions were not made until Ms. Fix Lopez requested that Bird do so; even then it was hard to hear all of the names of District and Temple staff. Two community members and two parents, one the SAC president, also attended.
Bird narrated the power-point about the “school quality review” carried out by District administrators (who were not identified). The presentation stated that administrators spent an average of 15 minutes in each of all the classrooms, but later Bird said it was closer to 25 minutes, about half of a class period. This raises questions about whether other parts of the report are inaccurate. Questions were raised about how observers could determine whether students mastered the skill taught in the lesson in that amount of time.
Bird briefly cited the two final options without going into detail. Fix Lopez asked him to explain the “staffing implications” of the plans. Bird said that a school placed into the Acceleration Network could keep “up to” 80% of its faculty. I pointed out that that means at least 20% would be forced out with no due process or clear criteria for retention. After several questions from me, Bird admitted that the lion’s share of any additional funding would have to pay for extensive professional development for teachers. Bird also admitted, in response to my questioning, that there is significantly more testing and data collection in Acceleration schools, although he attempted to make some differentiation between testing and assessment.
I seem to have stumped the District representatives when I asked whether they had considered using the additional funds to lower class size at Harrington. Bird couldn’t answer; he asked Davies, who didn’t know the answer either.
Professor Jordan read from a screen some of the comments made by parents and community members at the four focus meetings held in October. Harrington community member Catherine Blunt pointed out that none of the comments about which of the two options—Acceleration Network or Academic Improvement Plan—were included. Jordan responded that some of those comments were included in the written report, but didn’t explain why they were not included in this presentation.
I asked whether the District would carry out the wishes of the community as indicated in the vote taken at the last focus meeting when all participants rejected the Acceleration Network option and approved adopting the Academic Improvement Plan. Bird replied that it would be part of the consideration when the decision was made.
Based on the plans imposed on SGS schools in the past two years, I asked whether any outside consulting companies like ISA (placed in Kensington Health Sciences HS and Penn Treaty HS last year) or Jounce (placed in McDaniel Elementary last year) are being considered for Harrington or the other SGS schools (Locke and Lamberton).
After getting a non-denial denial, I told Bird that if he can’t say it’s not on the table, then we would have to assume that it is. At that point, Davies said that the decision to bring Jounce into McDaniel was made by “the school” . I pointed out that hiring consulting companies for intensive teacher professional development was never requested by anyone in the McDaniel community in any of the public meetings APPS members attended. Davies said that the school’s “planning committee” approved hiring Jounce. In other words, I replied, the real decisions are made in the non-public meetings.
This meeting was similar to the previous five in that definitive answers were hard to come by. Most of the details about the two options were omitted; they were only addressed if someone asked a specific question. At all of the focus meetings, District staff admitted that staff turnover was a major feature of placement in the Acceleration Network. Not until this meeting was it disclosed that teachers may be forced out under both models. It is nowhere to be found in any of the handouts distributed at the Focus meetings.
The new Board of Education has made a public commitment, on several occasions, to more “transparency”. When parents and community members are deliberately deceived in meeting after meeting, why should they take this claim seriously?